The American Military: Nineteen Histories about War, Society, and the U.S. Military’s Influence on the Nation


Even today, the category of military history still elicits a bit of head scratching. Our own John Southard noted as much in a 2012 essay for ToM: “Crayons, Fraternities, and Military History.” Southard pointed out that in the last throes of the twentieth century and the first decade of the new millennium, there existed among historians a great deal of doubt regarding the efficacy of military history. At the 1997 meeting for the Society of Military History, John Lynn publicly confided that one of his University of Illinois colleagues inquired, in the best voice of academic condescension one can imagine, if military historians “write in crayon.” At the 2008 meeting of the American Historical Association, John Shy, professor emeritus of history at the University of Michigan, publicly confided that the head of one particular American history department believed military history to be the domain of “hormone driven frat boys.”

Indeed, perceptions of the field, as Southard went on to discuss, remained mired in stereotypes and narrow thinking. The fact is, over the last twenty years, and especially in the last decade, how historians think about the military and its effects on society have taken on new importance to the extent that a new category soon emerged, “War and Society.” “This perceptive approach to the study of armed conflict,” noted Southard, “speaks to the interconnectedness of wars, militaries, and societies. Unlike traditional and “new” military history, the subject of war and society has garnered the interest of military historians and non-military historians alike.” Yet despite these new developments, many historians continued to relegate their military focused counterparts to “traditional battle narratives” and the like.

Obviously, we here at ToM agree with Southard. Indeed, some of the best work in history over the course of the past twenty five years emerged from new developments in the study of “War and Society.” With this in mind, there are one or two caveats. First, this list focuses on the 20th century military and its interaction with broader society, so you won’t see any Civil War histories in the mix. Second, we wanted to highlight “newer” works from the past 20 to 25 years and particularly those focusing on the U.S. military and its impact domestically. Finally, rather than try to provide an exhaustive, comprehensive but perhaps narrow list, we’ve supplied subheadings as well, so think of this as a sort of proto-comps list. At any rate, dig into some of the meatiest works of history over the past two and a half decades with ToM’s Military history listicle!

The Military Reshaping America


Ann Markusen, Peter Hall, Scott Campbell, and Sabina Dietrich, Rise of the Gunbelt: The Military Remapping of Industrial America, 1991.


Roger Lotchin, Fortress California, 1910 – 1961: From Warfare to Welfare, 1992


Michael Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s, 1995


Maggi N. Morehouse, Fighting in the Jim Crow Army: Black Men and Women Remember World War II, 2006

The Military, the City, and the Suburbs


Marilyn Johnson, The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II, 1996


Catherine Lutz, Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century, 2002.


Carol Lynn McKibben, Racial Beachhead: Diversity and Democracy in a Military Town, 2011


Sarah Jo Peterson, Planning the Home Front: Building Bombers and Communities at Willow Run, 2013


Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, 2014

Gender and Sexuality in the Military


Beth Bailey and David Farber, First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii, 1994


Allen Berube, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women During World War II, 2000


Donna Alvah, Unofficial Ambassadors: American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946 – 1965, 2007


Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth Century America, 2009

Vietnam and the Anti-War Movement


David Maraniss, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967, 2003


Lorena Oropeza, Raza Si! Guerra No!: Chicano Protest and Patriotism During the Vietnam War Era, 2005


Richard Moser, The New Winter Soldiers: G.I. and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era, 1996

The Institutional Military


Charles C. Moskos and John Sibley Butler, All that We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way, 1996


Beth Bailey, America’s Army: Making the All Volunteer Force, 2007


Kathleen J. Frydl, The G.I. Bill, 2009


  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Ryan Reft at Tropics of Meta has booklist on the best books on the subject of “War and Society.” Reft describes “War and Society” as the study of “the military and its effects on society.” While these books discuss the military they do not focus on traditional “battle narratives,” but on the “interconnectedness of wars, militaries, and societies.” Drew Gilpin Faust’s The Republic of Suffering is 19th Century example of this type of scholarship, Reft’s list focuses on the 20th Century.


  1. […] can be. Alex Cummings identifies ten books crucial to the study of media history, and Ryan Reft adds nineteen that explore U.S. military history (war and society). Both lists provide a pleasant introduction to […]

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